In memory of and in tribute to one of Nuneaton’s most celebrated sons.

Larry Grayson was a prominent entertainer and national TV personality in the 1970s and 1980s who made his home in Nuneaton. We wanted this part of the Grayson Place website to be a tribute to ‘Our Larry’.

He was born William Sully White at a nursing home in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on August 31, 1923. His parents were unmarried and he never met his father. When he was 10 days old, his mother, Ethel White, arranged for him to be fostered by Alice and Jim Hammonds, who lived in a small, terraced house in Abbey Green, Nuneaton.

Jim worked as a coal miner and had two young daughters, Flo and May. His wife Alice died when Billy was six years old and he was brought up by Flo, with whom he lived for most of his life – mainly in Nuneaton and for a brief spell in Torquay.

Known first as William White and then as Billy Hammonds, he left school at 14 but his first job, as a sales assistant in a shoe shop, lasted just two days. Within a week he was performing with a local concert party, The Very Lights, and made his debut at Fife Street Working Men’s Club, singing a risqué ditty “In the Bushes at the Bottom of the Garden.”

Adopting the stage name Billy Breen, he became a solo comedian, doing the rounds of clubs and pubs throughout the Midlands, appearing in drag for the first half and in a smart suit after the interval. Over more than 35 years he developed a unique, gentle anecdotal style of humour, based around imaginary friends such as Everard Farquharson, Apricot Lil, Slack Alice, Sterilised Stan the milkman and postman, Pop-it-In Pete – all based on people he knew while living in Clifton Road, Nuneaton.

On stage, with his chair “prop”.

During a summer season at the New Pavilion Theatre in Redcar, he started using what became his famous catchphrase “Shut That Door!” when a side exit was regularly left open causing a cold sea breeze to blow across the stage from the chilly Yorkshire resort.

After a talent-spotting show at the Nuffield Centre in London he was signed by top agent Eve Taylor, who persuaded him to drop his drag routine and become Larry Grayson, inspired by a film showing in the West End at the time starring Kathryn Grayson.

Nationwide theatre tours followed but with the popular onset of television, variety bookings began to dry up and by the 60s he was back on the clubland circuit as Billy Breen. With the approach of a new decade came his big showbiz break, when he was approached in a phone call out of the blue to front a show, as Larry Grayson, at the Theatre Royal in London’s East End. Rave reviews led to him making his debut at the London Palladium and he was then signed by Michael Grade to appear on a new live TV show “Saturday Variety.”  Before long Larry was being hailed a star, appearing in front of royalty and playing to packed houses all over the country. He had his own TV show “Shut That Door” and in 1978 he was announced as the new host of BBC’s “The Generation Game”, assisted by Isla St Clair. The Saturday evening show became hugely successful, attracting a regular viewing audience of around 18 million.

Larry made the decision to step down in 1982 and moved into semi-retirement, living at his detached bungalow in Nuneaton town centre with Flo and his pet poodle. He made occasional appearances on TV, radio and in pantomime and was a surprise guest on the Royal Variety Show in December 1994. Larry died suddenly at his home on 7 January, 1995 after being discharged from hospital following an appendix operation. The funeral, at St Mary’s Abbey Church, brought Nuneaton to a standstill in tribute to a local lad who made good and helped to put the town on the map.

It is fitting that as Grayson Place becomes part of the future of Nuneaton town centre, one of its most famous past sons will be remembered here.

Shut that door!